Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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For me, the twentieth century died with Big Granny on Jan. 12
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   01/21/2000)

For me the Twentieth Century ended on Wednesday, Jan. 12, when Big Granny died. That's what Jeanne and I took to calling my grandmother after our kids came along, to distinguish her--their great-grandmother--from their grandmothers. Soon that had become her nickname, at least for my branch of the family tree. Big Granny.

Strictly speaking, it isn't true, of course, that the 20th century died with her, but for me, I think, it always will seem true. Lena Carter Fowler, my mother's mother, after all, had been around for most of a century. She was born in 1910, before the 20th century had become recognizable for what it would become. Before World War I, the Great Depression, the League of Nations. Long before World War II, the Cold War. Before space travel and the Pill--thank goodness--and Elvis.

Way before all that.

Think of that. Granny was born when ragtime ruled. Before cars and airplanes were commonplace. Before 'Intolerance' was filmed, before the Titanic went down, before Woodrow Wilson was president. Before Bing Crosby was heard from. Before almost everything we take for granted in our kitchens and bathrooms were commonplace. Before jazz and Prohibition and flappers. There's a photograph of her looking very much like a flapper. It was displayed at her funeral on Saturday, Jan. 15 in Sparta.

Bobbed hair frames her lovely face--dark eyes, patrician nose, pretty mouth. Self-possessed, sophisticated, she stands revealing trim lower gams and classic figure in a dress that must have been daring in its day. To me, this picture has always held mystery, adventure, anomalies. How do you square this stylish, shrewd-looking, youngster--she couldn't have been more than 19--with Big Granny.

The granny pictured there was no granny. She was a girl without an inkling that I would ever be in the world. I'd give a lot to know the thoughts behind that pretty face as the photographer clicked the shutter. He captured a world that's mostly lost. Even in my earliest memories of Granny--they start surely before 1960--I see a woman with big soft bosom and belly, a ready laugh that went with an earthy sense of humor, and arms destined to encircle any child lucky or unlucky enough to be caught on her front porch--arms that cut off all escape for me and my siblings--Rodney, Becky, Timmy, and later Kathy, as Granny grabbed us and planted kisses on our faces. It was not something, at age six or eight, that I wanted to experience all that much, but it was the price you paid to visit the great mysteries and amazing people you encountered at Granny's house.

There was my red-headed, freckle-faced Aunt Linda, who conspired in the secrets and mysteries of fashion, romance and music with my older brother and sister. Linda had amazing and suspicious possessions--Elvis records and books about John F. Kennedy, and jewelry and Redbook magazines. And there was my uncle, this weird teenaged boy Basil, named after his father I would find out later, but we all called him Sonny, and I still do.

My earliest memory of him is of a barefoot boy, hanging upside down from a tree-branch by the knees, and laughing uproariously. Then there was beautiful, sophisticated Aunt Lila, dressed for a date.

Mostly, though, I remember Granny's hugs and kisses.

Later, say in 1993 or '94, when I would bring my own children by to see her in the nursing home, they developed their own strategies for dealing with Big Granny. I'll never forget the way she would leap up smiling from her bed, arms extended, the instant we walked in her room. Alexis and Travis would go in and get the inevitable over with. But Justin, who was youngest, would bide his time, waiting until Granny had embraced his big brother, then he would step up behind--cutting off brother's escape--and reaching around him on both sides, stretching his fingers to barely graze Big Granny's robe, he would close his eyes, exchange his grimace for a beatific smile, and experience her kisses second-hand. Then he would retreat out of reach, fast.

I know I'll never forget those visits to the places Granny called home, not only for her memorable hugs and kisses. There were other things to be had at Granny's house. I remember lots of laughter, singing, prayer, food, kittens, and her poetry and books. Always poetry she had written, and a treasury of books. When I consider how it became possible that I would spend much of my life stringing words together for a living, Granny gets much of the credit or blame. But then, without her, nothing ever was or ever would be for so many who gathered Saturday at the service. She was the fountain from which we sprang, and I honor her for that.

I loved my Granny--even those kisses; maybe, especially those kisses, and I'm going to miss her more than I can say.